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Dec. 30, 2020, 2:23 p.m. EST

U.S. sets record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, as country’s first case of new U.K. variant is found in Colorado

Health experts continue to lament slow rollout of vaccines in U.S. after much-ballyhooed authorizations were granted in early December

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

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The U.S. set a fresh record for hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 on Wednesday, and the country’s first case of the highly infectious U.K variant of the coronavirus was found in Colorado, as health experts continued to lament the delayed rollout of vaccines that is hampering the economic recovery.

The much-ballyhooed granting of emergency-use authorizations for two leading vaccines in December — one developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.43%  with German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -1.06% and one developed by the biotech company Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -2.31% — had raised hopes that the pandemic could soon be contained.

But the U.S. vaccine rollout is happening at a far slower pace than was promised by the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” a federal government program created to accelerate the development of vaccines and therapies. The initial promise was for 100 million doses to be delivered by year-end, which was later reduced to 40 million and then 20 million.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a tracking tool to monitor the pace of vaccination, but as of Wednesday morning it had not updated since Monday, Dec. 28, when it showed just 2.1 million people had been given the first of two doses and 11.4 million vaccines had been distributed.

Dr. Leana Wen, a practicing physician and former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, told CNN a lot has gone wrong with the distribution program, starting with an initial overpromising by the Trump administration.

“Another is diffusion of responsibility. In a way, that sounds a lot like the testing debacle, that there is no national strategy. States are supposed to figure it out on their own but without the resources and guidance they need,” she said.

“I’m really concerned because vaccines were meant to be how we get out of where we are, and it just pains me, and I’m sure many of us, so much, because there are millions of vaccines sitting in warehouses, and there are thousands of people dying every day.”

President-elect Joe Biden added his voice to the criticism on Tuesday, lamenting at a press briefing that “the effort is not progressing as it should.”

Biden created a pandemic task force shortly after his election in early November, saying his administration would be “informed by science and by experts.” On Tuesday, he allowed that the continuing battle against the public health crisis represented the “greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced as a nation.”

However, “If it continues to move as it is now, it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people,” Biden added. He said his incoming administration “will spare no effort to make sure people get vaccinated” and noted that he pledged earlier this month to get “at least 100 million COVID vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days.”

See also: Biden joins public health experts in expressing dismay as early days of COVID vaccine rollout in U.S. fall far short of expectations

White House incumbent Donald Trump, defeated by Biden in November, had this to say:

The U.S. recorded at least 3,626 fatalities from COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker , and another 200,902 new cases. The country has averaged 183,030 cases every day for the last week. The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases, at 19.6 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and fatalities, at 340,004, or about a fifth of the global tally for each.

The U.S. set a fresh record for hospitalizations with COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project. There are now 124,686 patients in U.S. hospitals, breaking the record set a day ago.

Officials in Colorado reported the first known case of the COVID-19 variant that has been moving fast across the U.K., which experts say is more infectious, but does not make people sicker. The case involves a man in his 20s, who is in isolation in Elbert County and has no travel history, according to a tweet from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat.

The U.K. granted emergency-use authorization to the vaccine that has been developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University, making it the third vaccine to be deployed in the U.K. in the pandemic, after the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna ones.

At a press conference, regulators cited the overall 70% effectiveness rate the AstraZeneca vaccine achieved in both of its dosing studies. They also advised against a mixing-and-match approach to administering the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.

An advantage the AstraZeneca vaccine has over the Pfizer one is that it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures, rather than needing supercold storage. AstraZeneca plans to make up to 3 billion vaccines to be distributed throughout the developing world.

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